If I had to choose one chapter from which to teach the Christian faith, especially with the issues that face us in the 21st Century. I would choose the fifth chapter in the Gospel of Matthew. Chapters 5 thru 7 in the Gospel of Matthew is one of Jesus’ discourse called “The Sermon on the Mount,” and begins with “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven (Matt 5:3). Please notice that Jesus is speaking in a present tense – theirs “is” the kingdom of heaven – meaning “now,” and not hundreds of lightyears away.
I’m not sure how we came to believe that heaven is only in the afterlife, and we must be works-righteous in order to gain entry into that heaven. (My research shows that it began in the aftermath of a Greek play written and dramatized hundreds of years ago.) But the fact that we can live in the kingdom of heaven now (and throughout all eternity) is part of the good news proclaimed by evangelists in the New Testament and others. Living in the kingdom of heaven is being aware of your union with God, and reflecting the love of God to others.
There are many scripture passages in the Bible that reveal this, i.e. the apostle Paul says, “for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory” (Colossians 3:3-4). Paul proclaims, “It is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me” (Galatians 2:20). Jesus says, “Abide in me as I abide in you … because apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:4-5).
So, where do we find the kingdom of heaven, since it seems hidden? To help us with that answer, Lutheran pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer chose discipleship as his theme in one of the few books he was able to publish, before being martyred by Hitler and the Nazis. While spending an enormous amount of time in prayer, he defined “grace” to simply mean “God’s love.” Grace is God’s free gift of love – free power – to love as God loves, to reflect God’s love in the world.
Human beings protect our ego: we defend our self-gratification as our freedom in life. But there comes a time, person, some event, death, idea, relationship that will enter your life with which you simply cannot cope using your present skill set, acquired knowledge or willpower. Spiritually speaking, we must get out of the driver’s seat for a while, and learn to give up control to the Real Guide whose loving Presence is within us and whose life we live in. It is the necessary pattern to finding and living in the kingdom of God.
Our orderly life must turn to disorder so that we may choose to let God give us reorder, renewal, redemption, and resurrection. Lady Julian of Norwich (1342-1416) said is more poetically: “First there is the fall, and then we recover from the fall – and both are the mercy of God!” Once we experience God’s mercy and love, we can pass God’s love on to others.
Growing a little each day in God’s love and kindness requires growing in the Oneness of God. How important it is for us to walk in loving-kindness with each other.
Rev. Tom Cici is the pastor at First Christian Church of Hoopeston (502 E. Main St.). Please go to www.fcchoopeston.org for inspirational sermons and much more.